Today, August 28, 2011, marks kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's sixth birthday in captivity. Gilad was only 19 years old, working alongside the Gaza-Israel border as part of the Israel Defense Force, when he was kidnapped by Hamas militants on June 25, 2006. For the past five years and sixty-some days, he has been held captive in an undisclosed location inside the Gaza Strip, denied of basic human rights and even visits from the International Red Cross. Hamas has repeatedly refused requests to respect international human rights laws including visits from a neutral international human rights representative to ensure that Gilad is being treated with proper health and safety standards as specified for prisoners of war and that he be permitted to communicate with his family by sending and receiving letters.
For over five years now, Israel has been working to negotiate his release (though some Israelis will persuade you that nothing has been done), which has been a sore subject of great debate. Similar to the inflexibility that Palestinian militants bring to the table regarding land and territory, there also seems to be no room for negotiation when it comes to their request for ransom. Gilad continues to be used as leverage for Hamas to negotiate the release of thousands of Palestinians soldiers currently held in Israeli prisons; soldiers who are being held in Israel for multiple counts of terrorism and who face a serious and profound threat to Israel's security.
As you can see, the dilemma is complicated. Gilad's face can be seen all over Israel, on cars, buses, windows, posters, government buildings and various other public places. His family has been camping outside of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem for nearly two years now, demanding progress in the negotiations. I have never ceased to be amazed by the profound outpouring of love and support by Israeli citizens for their fallen and lost soldiers. In the US, it is easy to not even hear about a military death abroad or to merely hear it in passing; however, in Israel, each and every soldier is treated as royalty when it comes to the publicity and concern regarding their well-being. Thus, the issue of Gilad's kidnapping is one of the central issues of modern Israeli culture. You would be hard pressed to find one single Israel who cannot tell you about Gilad.
Join me in praying for Gilad, wising him a happy birthday and visualizing that this be his last birthday spent alone in captivity. If you are interested in reading a heartfelt letter from his parents written publicly to Gilad on this, his 25th birthday, read further here.
Additionally, view this video below, which reminds you tenderly that Gilad is a human being, just like any one of us, who deserves to live his life. It breaks my heart knowing that his fate lies in the balance and that his days and nights are spent alone in the worst imaginable conditions. Join Israel in wishing a Happy Birthday to Gilad and praying that his fate change soon for the better.
Please take a minute to sign the international petition to bring Gilad back home, found at the website for the organization Stand With Us: http://www.standwithus.com/gilad/